If you’re an adventurous sort you might be interested in taking up temporary residence in a foreign country.
Have you considered house sitting abroad?
The opportunity to live like a local in a small Nicaraguan community or in remote British Colombia might at first sound appealing but once you begin to consider the logistics the thought may become a little overwhelming.
Just over two years ago Ben and I signed up to become house sitters, created a profile and began applying for our first assignment. Unfamiliar with the concept we were a little unsure how to approach the task of responding to home owners who had shown interest in our profile.
A week after we sent our first application we received a reply from a family in Costa Rica. They were visiting relatives in the USA and required house and pet care for a period of six weeks.
Now Costa Rica was somewhere I’d come across during my school geography lessons, this I was sure. However I was having a hard time racking my brain for any further snippets of information about the country.
The inhabitants spoke Spanish, we did not. They experienced two seasons, we were used to four. The country was in sunny Central America, we were in cold and rainy England. Unfortunately my knowledge dwindled into speculative musings at this point and my internal panic alarm went off.
Accepting the assignment we booked our flights and threw ourselves in head first. Since then we’ve looked after twelve homes in six different countries and have collated our own check list that we consult before accepting any opportunity.
We feel we’re now relatively qualified to share our experience and hope this provides a useful tool to consult as you plan your own house sitting adventures.
If you’re going to be living in a foreign country your first consideration should be whether or not you will require a visa for your stay. Do not assume that your tourist visa will cover you for duration of the assignment.
Jump online and find out from your embassy exactly what your options are. Most countries automatically provide a tourist visa to foreign visitors however the length of stay varies dramatically.
Find out exactly how many days you’re allowed to remain in the country on the tourist visa. Do not push the limit and extend your stay without authorisation or you could be faced with a hefty fine and have your re-entry to the country restricted.
Consider how you will get the visa. Will it be granted on arrival or will you need to apply before your departure?
Decide if you will need to work during the assignment to fund your stay. If so be aware that you will need to apply for the relevant employment visa. Make the home owner aware of your intention to work. It may be that they require someone to be at the property 24/7, if so this may not be a suitable assignment for you.
Find out what transport options will be available to you during the assignment. Some home owners leave a vehicle for your use whereas others will expect you to provide your own or utilise public transport.
Investigate the local area. Find out how close you are to amenities you require and whether you can get yourself around with ease. A remote house sit may sound appealing on paper but if you have to travel three hours by bus to do grocery shopping you may decide it isn’t the assignment for you.
- Consider the logistics involved with travelling to and from the assignment. Factor in your air fare as well as ground transport once you land. Consider public transport, vehicle hire and any additional layover accommodation costs.
- Determine what financial responsibilities you will have during your stay. You may be asked to cover anything from utilities and property maintenance costs to vehicle insurance and vets bills. Don’t get caught out know exactly what you are letting yourself in for.
- Decide whether you require payment for your services as a house sitter and make this clear on your profile. Remember that if you are going to charge to house sit in a foreign country this will be classed as working and you will be required by law to hold a working visa.
- Protect yourself. Never transfer any money to a home owner as a ‘down payment’ on utilities or to secure the assignment. If asked express your concern and ask to pay in full once you arrive at the property.
- Consider how you will manage your cash while abroad, look for credit and debit cards that do not charge foreign currency conversion fees or charge you for foreign transactions.
- Read our Guide to Savvy Travel Finance
- Take the time to research the local area, just because the home owner chooses to live there doesn’t mean you would. Keep up to date with local news and find out the weather patterns for the duration of the assignment.
- Don’t negate your personal health requirements, if you suffer with a recurring condition find out if your medical needs can be accommodated locally. Stock up on medicines you require daily and consider what vaccinations may be applicable to the country you are visiting.
- This is a vital tool for any house sitter. Without the ability to communicate with the outside world you can find yourself in a pickle. Find out what telephone and internet package you will have access to. It is vital that you can contact the relevant assistance should an emergency occur.
- If you run an online business, need constant access to your emails or can’t last a day without tweeting your itinerary to the world make sure the internet speed and allowance suits your needs. If you require an upgrade talk to the home owner, they may agree to upgrade their existing package or suggest you invest in additional mobile internet.
- Generally all the requirements of the assignment are detailed on the home owners advert however we like to confirm exactly what our responsibilities will entail before accepting a position. We feel it is vitally important to spend as much time as you can conversing with the home owner before committing to house sit.
- Use a service such as skype to chat with the home owners for free. Spend time getting to know them and ensure they are on the same wave length as you. Being on the same page from day one means there are no hidden surprises in store once you arrive at the sit.
- Understand exactly what is expected of you. Some owners choose to go away while they have their home renovated or garden landscaped and may expect you to coordinate builders and decorators. While there is nothing wrong with this don’t get caught out and arrive expecting to spend the assignment relaxing or working on your latest novel.
While I have left it until now to mention this I know that for most of us location is the driving force behind our decision to house sit. We want to experience areas of the world that interest us and quench our thirst for wanderlust.
Whether it is as an affordable accommodation option when staying near family, a relaxing break from a 9 to 5, an escape to the city or an opportunity to spend time in that particular country, there is a reason you apply for some house sits and not others. Don’t forget this initial consideration.
The thought of a beach house on a remote tropical island can make even the most logical of us weak at the knees however make sure that any opportunities you are offered suit your schedule and requirements.
A number of home owners have asked us to sign a short contract on arriving to house sit. In short it can detail whatever is required of you as a house sitter by the home owner. Ensure that you read and understand anything you are asked to sign fully and only do so if you agree to all the terms laid out in the agreement.
Don’t be afraid to ask for additional terms to be added to cover the ‘what ifs’ or extreme scenarios of any responsibilities you have been given.
A small amount of time spent typing your destination into a search engine can save you the irritation of being stuck somewhere that you don’t enjoy.
House sitting is an opportunity to explore far from the well-trodden tourist trail, it provides the opportunity to experience life living as a local, take advantage of this and apply for assignments accordingly.
Travelling and living abroad can be a daunting prospect for some, yet with a little research and the patience to ensure you find out as much information as possible the experience can enrich your life.
Had you have told me two years ago that I would have learnt the basics of Macadamia farming and alpaca herding, lived in the tropical Costa Rican jungle and the icy cold winter of British Colombia all as a result of house sitting I’m not sure I would have believed you.
But here we are twelve assignments later, temporary alpaca farmers caring for a wonderful hill top home.
For more information on registering as a house sitter read our Guide to House Sitting.
Have you ever taken on a foreign house sitting assignment? Perhaps you’re dreaming of a desert island house sit! Share your comments with us below.